Coming off an outstanding, progressive season that saw the first Detroit postseason appearance since 2011, the Lions look to improve upon their 2014 campaign and make the playoffs in consecutive seasons since ’93, ’94, and ’95. They will also look to win their first playoff game since 1991- their only postseason victory after the AFL-NFL merge. After a mostly quiet free agency period, the Lions will need to fill their remaining holes through the draft. Detroit has seen some decent success in the first round of the draft throughout history, with some of their most notable draftees being Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson Jr, Ndamukong Suh, and Matthew Stafford. The last time they had the 23rd pick was in 1961, and they used it on offensive tackle Dan LaRose, who only stayed in Detroit for three years with little success. Back then, the 23rd pick was in the second round. Will the Lions have better luck 51 years later in a very deep draft class?
Arik Armstead, DT Oregon
With Ndamukong Suh in Miami under a super-lucrative contract, the Lions acquired Haloti Ngata from the Baltimore Ravens. While Ngata is very talented, he is over the age of 30 and has just one year left on his contract. The Lions would greatly benefit from drafting a promising defensive tackle to eventually replace him. Enter Arik Armstead, the 6’7”, 292-pound monster out of Oregon. Armstead is an immensely athletic, yet raw prospect that could use a year or two to sit on the bench and learn. Who better than the 5-time Pro Bowler, Haloti Ngata to mentor him?
Kevin Johnson, CB Wake Forest
It’s no secret that the Lions need some help in their cornerback corpse, as not a single Detroit corner had more than two interceptions in the entire 2014 season. While Kevin Johnson might not be the next Deion Sanders, he may very well be the next Darrelle Revis in that he can shut down just about any receiver matched up against him. Johnson had 36 pass deflections in his final three collegiate seasons. With Rashean Matthews in the market for a Life Alert, and with his production falling and can’t get up, the Lions will need to add youth at the cornerback position. Kevin Johnson is the answer. And one more stat for you draftniks out there: Kevin Johnson allowed just 24 receptions in the entire 2014 season. How ‘bout them apples?
Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
With Reggie Bush gone, the only productive running back on the Lions is Joique Bell, which might spell trouble for Detroit. Bell hasn’t started more than six games in any given season of his four-year career thus far. This is due to injury, mainly. The Lions need a reliable running back with no injury history, and Melvin Gordon brings that to the table. Many speculate that he is just another product of the Wisconsin system, but his skillset says otherwise. While he isn’t the fastest or strongest running back in the world, he accelerates to his top speed in the blink of an eye and constantly gets into opposing secondaries. In the event that Joique Bell suffers an injury, or is just flat-out ineffective, the Lions should have a backup plan, and Melvin Gordon is not only a backup plan, but could be the future of the Lions’ backfield.
With the Chicago Bears losing Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets, Jay Cutler won’t be smoking anybody this season, and with the Vikings going nowhere fast, there will be another race between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers for first place in the NFC North. Most would assume that the Packers will win the division, but they need to discount double check that, as the Lions are just one impact player away from making a long playoff run. They have all the pieces, and if they have a good draft, there might even be a postseason game played IN Detroit. Getting carried away, am I? How close were they to winning the division last year? One game. If they sweep the Cheese Heads in 2015, we might see a new NFC North Champion for the first time since the Bears won it in 2010.